It is the perfect, murky conclusion to a grey story in a grey world. Those seeking neat little parables might want to look elsewhere right now.
Wednesday afternoon, a jury in San Francisco convicted Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball's career and single-season home run king, of obstruction of justice, agreeing that some of the testimony he gave before a grand jury hampered a federal investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid ring.
But on the three perjury counts that were the core of this case, the jury failed to reach a verdict. The eight women and four men couldn't decide whether Bonds lied to that same grand jury when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
A mistrial was declared on those counts, leaving prosecutors with the option of retrying a case that took more than three years to finally make it to court. Meanwhile, Bonds's lawyers have asked that the single guilty count be thrown out, and if the judge opts against that (a hearing is scheduled for next month), they will almost certainly file an appeal.
It is worth pointing out that there was potentially significant evidence the jury was not allowed to hear because Bonds's former trainer, Greg Anderson, the only person who could corroborate it, refused to testify, a decision for which he has twice been jailed. That would include leaked, positive results from what were supposed to be anonymous tests performed by Major League Baseball in 2004.
It also should be noted that a federal appeal court ruled last year that Jeff Novitzky - the zealous investigator in this case, in the perjury case still to come against Roger Clemens, and in alleged doping in cycling including by Lance Armstrong - illegally seized the samples involved in those MLB tests.
The bottom line is that the crusading G-Man Novitzky, who has been accused of being a headline-seeker overly interested in bringing down a big name, didn't get what he was looking for. Even if the conviction is upheld, there is almost no chance that Bonds will go to jail, and it seems highly unlikely the state will retry him on the perjury charges.
And the other bottom line is that most fair-minded people believe Bonds indulged in performance-enhancing drugs at a time when their use was endemic in baseball and in other sports, and understood exactly what he was doing. Knowing everything, including what the jury wasn't told, you'd have to twist yourself in knots to come up with an alternative explanation.
Bonds isn't going into the Hall of Fame, not so long as it is guarded by the moral arbiters of the baseball writers association. Or at least he won't go in two years from now, when he first becomes eligible. If he can stay on the ballot (there's a 10-year window) with all of the great players whose careers took place in the shadow of baseball's don't ask/don't tell era, it's at least possible the doors of Cooperstown may eventually swing open.
But don't expect Bonds to go begging, or apologizing. He's not that kind of guy.
In The New York Times this week, William C. Rhoden argued that although Bonds might not belong on the same list as Paul Robeson and Muhammad Ali, great African-American athletes (in Robeson's case, a great athlete and great artist both) who were dragged down because of their political beliefs, there might well be a comparison in Jack Johnson, the heavyweight champion prosecuted and convicted under the Mann Act, largely because he insisted on keeping the company of white women, because he wasn't shy about it, because he was arrogant, because he didn't know his place.
"In 1913, the government hid behind the Mann Act to prosecute a powerful, prominent black man it felt needed to be taught a lesson," Rhoden wrote. "Now the government has invested eight years and millions of dollars to go after another prominent, powerful black man with a vigor that suggests there is more in play than the altruistic goal of protecting the integrity of a grand jury."
Even if you're not ready to see Bonds as a victim of racism - or as a victim of any sort - everything about this case, everything about the politically opportunistic crusade against drugs in baseball, at the very least seems the equivalent of killing a fly with a hammer.
In this case, a big, arrogant, unlikable and unbowed fly, the easiest target of all.